“You Don’t Look Blind”…

“You don’t look blind” is something I still hear from people far too often.

Lots of people all over the world still believe this misconception that to be visually impaired you tend to look a certain way. They associate a certain look, an unresponsive stare, a vacant expression. But there are many shades of blindness, it’s never all or nothing and it’s impossible to judge how someone sees By just the way they look back.

Even today adverts for sight loss charities and guide dogs always seem to use people with no vision who’s eyes have “that look” that most associate with blindness. It keeps the misconceptions alive. It reinforces the barriers we have to overcome and stops people from reaching out for help with their vision loss because they feel that they’re not blind enough yet.

Image of Enitan

You don’t have to be totally blind to use a cane or a guide dog and if you’re like me you don’t have to look a certain way to be visually impaired.

Enitan is a tutor for UCanDoIT and is part of a campaign to help change people’s perceptions of blind people.

One of the best examples of this is from 23 year old Molly Burke who has had Retinitis Pigmentosa  (RP) since the age of four.  “No, I don’t need to feel your face when I meet you” @MollyBOfficial shows us reality vs. perception in this video https://t.co/AtQ5xbTzrv.

#BlindNewWorld (a blind awareness campaign to demystify blindness and break down barriers to inclusion).

If you are a VIP post your picture with the hashtag #VIPLikeMe on social media.

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Digitally Excluded by Default?

This is my first blog for UCanDoIT since I joined late last year as CEO. My image of UCanDoIT CEO Sam Barbername is Samantha Barber.

Let me start by saying that I am new to assistive technology, although I’ve worked in the voluntary sector for 20 years. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in a wide range of charities, from tiny ones to large, household names for diverse causes: housing, the environment, young people and social care. All my roles have focused on income generation and communications. My working life is complemented by a number of trusteeships. I formalised my experiences with a MSc in Voluntary Sector Management from Cass Business School as I realised fairly early on that this is the sector I will always work in. I strongly believe in the voluntary sector, our independence and our ability to help with the social problems seen as too difficult by others.

I decided to come to UCanDoIT for a number of reasons. Partly, I had been very impressed by the IT project at my previous organisation, which had a huge impact on the lives of disabled and vulnerable Veterans. I also have family circumstances that have increased my personal experience of the need for appropriate assistive technology. Professionally, I wanted a new challenge in a new role. UCanDoIT offered me the ideal opportunity to combine all these elements.

Before I joined, I’d heard about AT and had seen some bits and pieces but
had not delved into it deeply. Well, that has all changed! Every day I am learning something new about AT and also the accessibility of technology in general. As Henry Louis Mencken said: ‘For every problem there is a solution’ and that is certainly the case with assistive technology. Usually, there is a piece of software, application or hardware available to provide a remedy to any barrier to benefiting from technology.

A lot is bandied about in this sector about those who are digitally excluded. For many people that really does seem to mean not being able to access technology, such as not being able to afford a computer. But it isn’t. So much of our lives, our world, is conducted online today that those who have not yet accessed it are therefore excluded. And some people need a guide to overcome that exclusion, someone who can reassure and help navigate the gloriously overwhelming expanse of options and opportunities. This is, in my view, the essential factor in overcoming digital exclusion and is precisely what UCanDoIT provides.

Over the past few months I have learnt that UCanDoIT is a great, small, feisty
and passionate charity that seeks to change people’s lives by taking them into the new world that relies so much on technology. My role is to assemble the charity’s resources to best meet the demand for our service. I will speak about that and our new strategy next time.

In the meantime I wish you all well and happy IT.

Samantha Barber

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UCanDoIT Celebrates Learner Achievements

Photo 21-03-2017, 18 50 06UCanDoIT celebrated the work of learners and tutors at an award ceremony held at the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists headquarters on 21 March. One of the highlights was the presentation of the Anthony Wigram Achievement Award designed to celebrate those learners who have created a social impact either personally or within their community through the use of IT and the support of UCanDoIT.

Our founder said “This is the second year of the award and numerous nominees were put in front of me, all with their own story to tell. I was impressed by Mike Brace who despite his disability has achieved great things”

Mike Brace CBE with awardMike Brace (pictured) is a former paralympic skier, social worker and leader of disabled charities. He was Chief Executive of Vision 2020 UK (2001-2012) and served as Chairman of the British Paralympic Association (2001-2008). He was blinded at the age of ten by an accident with a firework and subsequently attended Linden Lodge School for the Blind in Wimbledon.

He gained a Diploma in Social Work from the Polytechnic of North London in 1976 and in the same year competed as a cross-country skier in the inaugural Winter Paralympics. He was awarded the OBE in 2005 and CBE in 2009 for services to paralympic sport.

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Lessons Lead to Improved Lifestyle

Alex from Lanarkshire is 70 years old and has been disabled for 12 years. He is quadriplegic and uses a power chair he operates with his chin.Alex sitting in front of his computer

“For years we have tried to get a way to keep me occupied when I can’t get out and about in my chair. I had voice activated software lessons 9 years ago but this was unsuccessful.

I am very pleased with the excellent training and support given to me by my UCanDoIT tutor and am now able to use Grid3. The index finger on my left hand has enabled me to use a push button to access all the systems mentioned and the lessons have been very successful in improving my lifestyle.

I use Kindle a system that allows me to read books and Amazon supply thousands of titles to select from.  I can use emails, Facebook  and I am enjoying visiting countries all over the world and reading the information supplied by Wikipedia, Google and YouTube, also looking at videos.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UCanDoIT Course Leads to Further Learning

Sheila is visually and hearing impaired and has had osteoporosis and brittle bone disease for several years. Sheila used to work as a Health & Safety Executive. Following an accident at work in 2009, she was badly injured and has been in a wheelchair since then. She had to give up work in 2011.

sheila-cameronShe said “I began with UCanDoIT with no IT experience at all. I had an accident at work that left me disabled. Up to that point I had a secretary who took notes and did everything for me.

I was very nervous and had a very very short concentration span due to medication. The tutor who came to see me was so friendly, patient and provided my learning at my pace. She spoke to me in a way that allowed me to develop my understanding gradually and was available by email if I got muddled.

Because of the foundations I received from my UCanDoIT course I went on to further develop my IT skills which helped as I completed my BSc Environmental Studies Degree with Hons.

As I have a progressive disability I am now a wheelchair user but can use my iPad, iPhone and iWatch to keep in contact with family and friends. I now also use assistive technology and am not scared to try things as your tutor gave me the confidence to try new things.

I am just so grateful that I was able to access the training via your charity as I was at a very low stage in my life”.

Through UCanDoIT, she learned how to use a desktop computer and laptop with Supernova and iZoom. Sheila uses her iPad for 90% of university work, she relies on Siri and Voiceover apps. She also uses an Apple watch for security (CCTV), alarms, and making payments.

She has also been studying a BA in Innovative Design, BA in Business Studies and a BSC in Social Care and Well-being. In the course of Sheila’s studies she has also learned how to use design software programs such as Compendium and ODS. In October 2016 she embarked on a BSC in International Relations.

Sheila works for the Open University Disabled Students Group and is the Chair. She travels to Milton Keynes and attends training conferences and mentors students.She has been awarded an Honorary Membership of OUSA. Sheila also carries out training for other organisations: Support for Ordinary Living (SOL) in Motherwell and New Mayfair Hotel in Blackpool which provides accessible respite care.Sheila is hoping to have the support of an assistance dog in the near future.

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Never Too Old To Learn

Gertrude was born in 1915 in South Africa. She left school too early and received no education whatsoever. She moved to England in 1961, aged 50, with 3 children and 2 dogs. Life without proper education and profession had been hard for her and her family. Nevertheless, she managed to educate her children to the highest standard – her son is a professor at Stanford University and a Nobel Prize winner.gertrude-cropped

Now living in London she qualified as a teacher and started work. A few years later she registered a private school in her house, educating 15 children. And that is what she is still doing – providing private lessons in English and Maths to pupils up to age 12. “I love people and that makes me a good teacher”, she says about herself.

The only sign of her disability is the walking frame she moves around with. She still drives her car around West London to visit places and friends.

All that she learned on her computer was through trial and error. “My son has been the worst teacher to me” – she says, “He would do things rather than showing me how to do it myself. That’s why I enrolled on the UCanDoIT course. I wanted to have a proper computer course, with a tutor to teach me, to be patient with me, since I have to admit I am not the best student around. And I was lucky to have my tutor so patient and so understanding.”

“At my age I tend to forget, and do things in the wrong way. But I did not know which way was the right way and sometimes I had to ring my tutor Boyko to ask him what to do. He’s always been there for me I am extremely grateful for his patience and knowledge. Now, at the end of my course I can say that I am feeling a lot more confident in my daily work. I do a lot of proof-reading for my son, and that keeps my brains working. All that matters when it comes to keeping healthy and in good shape”.

 

 

 

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Sarah’s Story

I lost my sight suddenly three years ago and it was a huge adjustment to make. I was unsure what I would be capable of doing in future, but whilst I was recovering in hospital I listened to lots of podcasts about assistive technology and it seemed that this could be a way to do many of the things I was used to doing before I lost my sight.Image of UCanDoIT learner Sarah with her computer

I have always been fairly good at understanding how to use computer programmes, but the thought of writing an email and sending it to the right person seemed pretty impossible without sight. I tried using voiceover on my iPhone and iPad but I found it confusing and frustrating. I knew that so much was possible, but I knew I needed help to get started.

My sight loss advisor from my local Visual Impairment Team told me about U Can Do IT and I applied to take part. My trainer Enitan was also blind and it was great to get advice about how she uses technology in her everyday life.

She added tactile bumps to some of certain keys on my keyboard to help me to navigate it quicker. We spent lots of time practising how to get around web pages and I had a list of useful shortcuts to use. I was amazed that I could actually search and open web pages on my own.

One of the things I used to do every week was to complete the online shopping order, but the app I was using didn’t work well with the screen reader. We downloaded an app from a different supermarket which was much better and I was able to browse and create my shopping basket myself which was brilliant and something that I do every week now with ease.

I also looked at using the Twitter app and Enitan helped me set it up. I find I use it every day to access up to date news, information about local events and book/music reviews. She also showed me how to set alarms and reminders as well as how to use the calendar. I can now use my phone to be organised and plan ahead.

I also use my phone to put programmes on the TV using the Netflix app and can search YouTube for things my son wants to watch without needing any help.

It is wonderful to gain this independence and it has also enabled me to keep my links with friends through email, text, WhatsApp etc. which is so important to me. The U Can Do IT course was a brilliant experience for me and helped me overcome my worries about how I might be able to get back to work in future and achieve my goals.

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